Depending on who you talk to, living in an HOA is either a nightmare in which some vague authority figure constantly yells at you about the height of your fence, or a resort style experience with access to a pool and a gym. The reality is often somewhere in between. Yes, HOAs have rules (some of which may seem petty) and they also have amenities.
If you’re considering buying a house, condo or townhouse in a planned community you will likely be joining an HOA (Homeowners’ Association). An HOA provides maintenance, a code of conduct and amenities, all of which should theoretically make for a pleasant living experience and steady property values.
If you’ve never dealt with an HOA, here’s what to expect:
HOA fees vary depending on where you live, what amenities are available and other factors like the size of your home. You’ll never find an HOA without them. You can expect to pay between $200-$500 a month. The fees go towards things like landscaping, snow removal and pool, gym and clubhouse maintenance. They also help keep the community secure by paying for gates and often a security team.
As a rule of thumb, the HOA will cover anything that everyone uses—be it sidewalks, elevators, parking areas or even tennis courts. The HOA will also have a reserve fund to pay for unexpected costs, such as repairs after a hurricane or fire.
HOA fees are not optional. You must factor them in when buying a home. Missing an HOA payment is kind of like missing a mortgage payment. The HOA might slap you with extra fees or put a lien on your house. You should also be aware that HOA fees might increase over time, so it’s smart to find out how often this will occur and how much they’ll be raised by when it happens.
HOAs are definitely not for people who hate following rules. If you live in an HOA community, you’ll have to follow a lot of them. Most rules are common sense, but there will be some that may irritate you.
HOA rules typically dictate what colors you can paint your home, how you can decorate your yard, how many pets you can have and whether or not you can have political signs in your yard during an election season. An HOA may prevent you from washing your car in your driveway, using your porch for storage, renting out your property on Airbnb and parking your RV or boat in your driveway (this is where renting a storage unit comes in).
If you break these rules, you may be fined or you may lose access to amenities, like the community clubhouse. You should be notified of rule violations in writing and offered a chance to discuss the issue in person.
The HOA takes care of some things that are typically government functions—things like fixing street lights and enforcing rules—but it’s important to remember that they are not the actual government. HOAs are bound by the rule of the law. If a crime is committed, that’s the police’s job to investigate. They also can’t discriminate based on race, gender or sexual orientation. If you believe your HOA is not following its own rules, you can appeal to a higher power and take them to court.
Your HOA Board
Each HOA is run by a board of volunteers who live in the community. It’s a good idea to get to know them. You can even join the board, if you wish (and if you’re elected). As a new member of the community, you should try to go to at least one meeting. This will give you a sense of how hands-on the HOA is and what issues are typically discussed.
Your level of involvement is up to you, but you should definitely get a little facetime in with the HOA board so they know who you are and are willing to listen to you should you come to them with an issue at some point.